Friday, August 21, 2015

Stephanie Thornton

I have recently read 3 historical fiction novels all by Stephanie Thornton.  She has chosen to write about women that played a major role in history, but of whom we know little about today.

The first was Daughter of the Gods and is set around the life of Hatshepsut, daughter of Pharaoh Tutmose I in Egypt in the 1400s BC. It charts her whole life: her loves, losses, and the power battles that raged to lead the people of Egypt. I really enjoyed it, and while Thornton acknowledges there are some liberties taken as it is fiction, most of the characters and events depicted occurred. It was an eye-opening view into the life, customs and beliefs of Ancient Egypt.

The second was The Tiger Queens, set in the region of current Mongolia and it charts the lives of the women connected to Genghis Khan. It starts with his promised wife, Borte, and moves to his daughter Alaqai and then onto other women in the family. I have never read anything about this time or region and really enjoyed the insight it gave me into a very different era. Again, I appreciated Thornton’s explanation at the end about which aspects were historical and which parts were more fictional.

The third was The Secret History, set in 6th century Constantinople in the   Byzantine Empire. It charts the promiscuous youth of Theodora (often the only way for poor women to survive) to her eventually marrying the nephew of the Emperor and becoming Empress is her own right. In the end, after dreadful beginnings, she does become a woman to admire, even if somewhat grudgingly. She was able to play power games with the best and ended up a both a powerful asset to and true love of her husband.

As all three books are well researched and detailed, it definitely pays to have pen & paper handy to keep track of the characters. Many names are unfamiliar to modern ears and the details quickly become murky if you aren’t keeping track. These books would have greatly benefitted from a list of characters (and also gods and spirits) to refer to when needed. (I found after reading there was one hidden towards the end of The Tiger Queens, but I didn’t find it when I went looking!). She weaves in and out with details and often refers back to previous details. Keeping track makes the whole book easier to follow and reduces much potential confusion!

She has another book due for release in December, The Conqueror’s Wife, telling the story of the women around Alexander the Great.  I am looking forward to it already.

If you like historical fiction, especially about times and parts of the world where you might have less knowledge, these are an enjoyable read. They will also serve a double purpose, if you are a woman, chances are you will end up very thankful you live in this day and age!


Tamie said...

I read The Tiger Queens earlier this year and loved it! I avoided Thornton for a while because the covers made the books look a bit soapie or something, so I was surprised to discover how substantial the themes are. One of the things I love about historical fiction is discovering a new world and culture, and Thornton does that so well! Thanks for the recommendation of the others - I think now I'll look those up as well.

Wendy said...

Hi Tamie,

I think upon reflection I liked the Tiger Queens the best. I liked the insight into a whole new area of history for me. I have read a lot of Greek/Roman historical fictions over the years, including Kate Quinn and Francine Rivers. I am always taken aback at just how debauched society was then, especially for women who had to earn their living that way, and don't love dwelling it. Hence, my thankfulness comment about this day and age. But I agree, they are meaty and substantial - despite the dreadful covers! And I suspect a reasonable portrayal of each life and times.